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Trump Takes On Boeing Over Air Force One


Donald Trump took to Twitter yesterday to criticize Boeing, saying the cost of a future fleet of presidential aircraft was just too high. He then spoke to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower.


DONALD TRUMP: Well, the plane is totally out of control. It's going to be over $4 billion for Air Force One program, and I think it's ridiculous. I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.

GREENE: OK, Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, a magazine that covers U.S. defense and national security. He's written about what goes into updating such a rare fleet of airplanes.

Marcus, welcome.

MARCUS WEISGERBER: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So does Donald Trump have a point here? I mean, what would be wrong with him deciding to work with Congress and the Pentagon if he thinks this is too much money and just scrapping this program and using the old planes?

WEISGERBER: Well - well, he does have a point. Military acquisition program stuff like this - they are very expensive. The point that he doesn't have is that Boeing is immensely profiting from this. Right now, Boeing has a $70 million - $170 million contract, and it's to design what the new interior of this new Air Force One would actually look like. It - there is an estimate - an internal estimate in the Air Force that says this has potential to reach $4 billion, which is a mind-numbing and staggering figure.

But the implication is that the contract is already out there. It's incredibly over budget.

GREENE: And it's not - 170 million is just - is tiny compared to $4 billion. And as you said, I mean, the overall cost could go that far. But - but in criticizing Boeing, in suggesting and tying them to this $4 billion number, suggesting they are making a lot of money, it really was a reminder of the power of a president or a president-elect's words because Boeing's stock price, you know, temporarily took - took a hit. Could the company be damaged by this?

WEISGERBER: It certainly could, and that's the big fear right now among defense firms. This man, David Melcher, he's the CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, which is kind of the lobbying group that supports and represents all of these big U.S. defense companies. He spoke yesterday. And he - he - he - he mentioned that, you know, companies aren't going to be tweeting back at this.

But, as you mentioned, Boeing's - Boeing's stock price started to drop right afterward. Now, it did rally late in the day. But defense firms are worried and probably more - more than just defense firms. U.S. firms are probably going to be worried that this is the way that new contracts are going to be negotiated, not inside a closed boardroom, but out there in - and up on Twitter.

GREENE: Sometimes in tweets from - from the president of the United States. Why does it cost so much, if this $4 billion number is accurate to - to build a new presidential aircraft?

WEISGERBER: So these are the two most rare - now mind you, there are two planes that are - that serve as Air Force One right now. And they have the call sign Air Force One when the president's on it. And they're so expensive because they're the two most unique planes in the world. They are nuclear-hardened to withstand an electromagnetic pulse during nuclear war.

GREENE: Oh, wow.

WEISGERBER: They have all sorts of special communications gear that allows the president to communicate during a nuclear war in video conference...

GREENE: It's like a White House in the air - right? - I mean, essentially.

WEISGERBER: It's a mobile military operations center in the air.

GREENE: That's incredible.

WEISGERBER: So it's a lot more than that. And it's a - it's never been done before, this new configuration of this new type of 747.

GREENE: Well, Marcus, I want to ask you about an interesting thing you've written about. You said that only presidents who are leaving office - and in this case, President Obama - begin contracts for new future Air Force One aircraft. Why is that?

WEISGERBER: Well, you have to do it in the second term because it's just terrible optics, the public perception among average, ordinary Americans of buying an expensive private jet for yourself with taxpayer money.

GREENE: (Laughter) I guess so, for yourself. So you can do it for your - for your future successor.

WEISGERBER: Exactly, and at the end of the day, though, you have to do something 'cause the current planes, they just have a finite life. And they need to be replaced.

GREENE: OK. Marcus Weisgerber is a global business editor at Defense One. Thanks so much for joining us.

WEISGERBER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.